Cradles the Brain: A Book of Short Tales

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Bloody Mary

Her porcelain skin shone, reflecting back the light from the exposed bulbs on her vanity. The reflection brought her no joy. Where high-arched eyebrows curved along her brow, she saw thick caterpillars. A straight nose reflected back as large as an elephant’s trunk. Plump, red lips snarled back at her, thin as wire. Her deep brown eyes took all of this in, staring deeply into the mirror.

“Mary, we’re on in five,” a man said from behind the seated model.

Startled from her focus, she gasped and placed a dainty hand on her chest. She nodded, hand still over her fast beating heart. She clenched it, feeling no bulge from under her bra, only the soft give of old pantyhose, hastily shoved in before her car ride to the shoot.

“Why is it again that you refuse to do a bathing suit shoot? You’re the perfect model,” a friend, Martha, asked from the seat next to hers.

“I just don’t want to expose myself that much!” Mary answered with wide eyes. The car was moving much faster than she would have preferred. “Plus, I have to have some element of surprise when I meet the man of my dreams.” Mary winked at Martha and laughed. Martha laughed with, not sensing Mary’s uncomfortable countenance.

“Mary, we’re ready for you!” Mary jumped, pulled from her memory of that day’s car ride. She quickly got up and untied the robe about her. She gracefully pulled it off and draped it on her chair. Before she left, she plucked a photo from her mirror, kissed it, and gently returned it.

She scurried out of the dressing room, running into the shoot’s director. “Where’s your hat?”

Mary gasped, her gloved hands going up to her cheeks. She dove back into the dressing room, almost plowing into Martha.

“Calm down, where’s the fire?” she said with a light laugh.

Mary snatched the hat from her vanity and lined up behind the other five models. One in front of the next, they walked out to the shoot, swaying their hips with each step.

Mary fumbled with her hat until they reached the room they would be shooting in. As her feet crossed the entryway, her back straightened, her shoulders pulled back, her face relaxed, and her hands found her hips. She walked in front of the camera, finding her place among the other women. Suddenly, the dress she wore fit perfectly. The hat complimented her light skin tone. She tipped it to the camera, jutting her hips out. The camera clicked more times than Mary could count, and she struck every pose she could think of.

Finally, the director of the shoot stood up. “Alright, ladies, we should have all we need. Thank you.” He dismissed them with a wave of his hand, and the women dispersed back to the dressing room.

Each sat at their vanity, admiring their hair and makeup before undressing. Martha sat a few feet from Mary.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they let us keep the clothes?” she asked Mary, her gloved hands touching the shoulders of her dress.

Mary looked over and sheepishly nodded. The monster stared at her from the mirror again. She averted her eyes back to Martha, who was already undressing. Mary stood up, knowing she should rush so she could make her doctor’s appointment. She took off her hat and gently laid it on the vanity. Glancing around, she noticed how beautiful the other models were. Perfect brown hair or solid blonde curls, unlike her short, dyed black hair. As they slipped their dresses off, she noticed their full bras and slim stomachs. She quickly looked away, ashamed of the pantyhose stuffed bra and the girdle under her dress. Embarrassed, she walked through the half-naked women to the bathroom.

Inside, she stared at her reflection, the lighting in there being most unflattering. She sighed and looked away. Fearing one of the women would walk in on her, she entered a stall and sat on the seat. She silently wept into her black velvet gloves, smudging them with cream colored powder.

A few minutes passed like this and she stopped crying. As she sat sniveling, she no longer heard the murmur of the other women. Slowly, she stood up, straightened her dress, and unlatched the bathroom door. Passing by her reflection, she kept her eyes to the tiled floor.

The dressing room was empty. The room was dark, save for her vanity. The yellow light faintly illuminated the racks of clothing, giving the dresses the look of very thin shadows. She approached her vanity with a heavy beating heart. Her hands fumbled with themselves in front of her navel. Her heels clicked on the floor with each step, seeming to echo through the empty room.

She made it to her vanity, avoiding her reflection. Slipping off her damp gloves, she kicked her shoes off. Mary was happy to see her purse and clothing still present, not taking that the other models were the thieving kind. She arched her back and reached back, barely grasping the zipper. Pulling it down, she listened to the zip!

Anger suddenly filled her. Martha hadn’t even waited for her so they could say their goodbyes. None of the other models had even come in to check on her. Mary huffed out a breath and pulled the dress down. She stepped out of it and walked to the clothing rack behind her chair. Her feet lightly patted against the tile floor. She yanked free a hanger and sloppily hung up the dress.

Turning, she saw her reflection. A pig stood before her eyes, up on its hind legs like a human. The pig smiled, bearing dirty teeth. Mary gasped. The pig leaned forward, its head seeming to extend from the mirror. It squealed, deafeningly loud. Mary covered her ears and screamed. Fresh tears ran down her face. She snatched up her things, hastily slipped on her dress, and ran out of the dressing room. The pig squealed in her ears the entire way out.

Mary ran outside, heels in hand. The squealing did not stop, it only got faintly quieter. She pulled on her shoes and hailed a cab. Once inside, she realized the squealing was coming from inside her head.

♦♦♦

“So you’re sure you want to go through with this?” Dr. Conrad asked, looking over his thin wire spectacles. Mary nodded, assured with her decision. Dr. Conrad smiled. “Alright, see you next Tuesday.” Mary nodded again and thanked him. She stood and lightly shook his hand.

Exiting his office, Mary still heard the squealing. The car ride over had not shaken that sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She still felt shook up and quickly left the office, terrified that she would run back inside and cancel everything.

In her apartment, Mary drank tea and listened to the radio from her patio. She looked down at her chest, knowing that in a week’s time, she would feel like a new woman. A smile curled her lips as she sipped on her tea. The squealing continued, just below the sound of the radio.

♦♦♦

Tuesday came much faster than Mary had expected. She found herself sitting in the waiting room of the second best plastic surgeon in Chicago. She found his work just as good as the top surgeon’s, but he was within Mary’s price range.

A nurse opened the door to the waiting room. “Mary Poe?” Mary grabbed her purse and walked to the nurse. The nurse smiled and made small talk. Mary played along, keeping her nerves from the eyes of others. The squealing quieted just enough so Mary could hear the nurse’s instructions. She set her things down in the operating room and took the paper gown from the nurse.

Once alone, Mary quickly undressed and slipped into the gown, figuring it hid her insecurities well. She lay down on the table and waited for the doctor with a pounding heart.

The door opened and clicked closed, startling Mary. The doctor laughed. “I’m sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.” He stood over Mary and smiled. Mary awkwardly looked up to him, straining her neck.

He spoke to her, reassuring her that he had done the procedure hundreds of times and this time would be a success just like the last. Mary hesitantly smiled, creating more of a grimace. A few nurses filed in and Dr. Conrad introduced them, stating how fantastic each one had performed in previous procedures. Mary smiled and nodded along, although all she heard was the squealing; just one long squeal, no break for breath ever. She had been tormented with it for the past week and was at her wit’s end.

Finally, the doctor stopped talking, taking notice of Mary’s distant stare. He turned on the gas and covered Mary’s mouth and nose with the mask.

“Just relax. It’ll all be over soon.” He gently smiled and Mary’s eyes closed.

It’s so hot.

Mary’s eyes opened. Fire. Everywhere.

Is this Hell?

Mary tried to move, but her sleepy brain had no control of her limp body. She tried to move her legs to swing off of the table but found her body too heavy. The heat crept into her skin and seared her muscle. Mary opened her mouth to scream, but the mask was pushing to much gas into her mouth. Her eyes rolled around in their sockets, attempting to seek safety. Flames billowed around her. The paper gown she wore struck alight, boiling her skin. She could feel her flesh melt away from the bone.

Above her, a hole opened in the ceiling of flames. A bright light shone through. Expecting to see an angel, Mary looked to the hole with wide eyes. A pig’s head filled the hole. It opened its mouth and squealed, louder than the flames surrounding her. Mary screamed from behind her mask, the flow of gas finally coming to an end. The squealing filled her skull until the flames cooked her head, poaching her brain. Her porcelain skin charred black as the flames continued to latch onto her, licking until there was nothing left to lick.

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